Tuesday July 16, 2024

Scholars stress need for interfaith harmony

October 16, 2014
The imperative for harmony and better understanding between different faith traditions in the world has never been more urgent. The tide of religious conflicts and violence has risen to levels which force us to recall the periods of human history we would rather disown or attribute to pre-modernist consciousness.
These views were expressed by Mumtaz Ahmad, the executive director of Iqbal International Institute for Research and Dialogue at International Islamic University, Islamabad, in his keynote address at a two-day seminar, “The issue of religious harmony in Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East”, at a hotel on Wednesday morning.
The event is being held under the aegis of the Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE) of Karachi University and the Hans-Seidel Foundation, Islamabad.
Ahmad said religious discord was supposed to be a relic of the past, consigned to the dustbin of history. Yet, religious and sectarian rivalries persisted, claiming a massive human toll.
Talking about Europe, he said that no doubt after two centuries of religion-based wars, the continent had solved its Catholic-Protestant problem. “But the issue it urgently needs to address today is Islam,” he said.
“The recent surge of Islamophobia in several European countries is rather a simplistic response of European societies. They dub the problem as simply the refusal of Muslim societies to assimilate into the host culture, and ‘Islam’s incompatibility with western liberalism and modernity’ ”.
In other words, he said, this was tantamount to saying, “Yes, we do believe in religious freedom, we do believe in multiculturalism, but you can’t build minarets on your mosques. Your girls cannot wear the Hijab or the scarf to school”.
Europe, he said, was ambivalent about the way it should redefine its identity in the wake of mass migration of its erstwhile civilisation burden, that is, the non-white immigrants.
The Middle East, he said, was in the midst of turmoil in the wake of decades of foreign intervention and occupation, in addition to the myopic policies of its rulers.
“South Asia is complacent because it thinks that ‘Halaat-e-Hazra ko kai saal ho gaye’ and that it has the capacity to live through even greater crises,” Ahmad said.
He blamed the situation in Pakistan on the injection of religiosity into body politics through the Afghan Jihad of the 1980s by General Zia-ul-Haq. Referring to Iraq, he said as long as Saddam was there, there was not even an iota of sectarianism or interfaith friction.
All Shias, Sunnis, and Christians were treated absolutely at par. It was only after the US carried out its invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam that sectarianism reared its ugly head.
Earlier, Dr Uzma Shujaat, director of ASCE, said in her welcome address that the goal of every religion was essentially the same, the search for the truth.
Through the correct practice of religion, we should build harmony or a state of peace within ourselves and experience something greater than ourselves.
She stressed the crying need for interfaith harmony across the globe in general and Asia in particular.
Kristof W Duwaerts, resident representative of the Hans-Seidel Foundation in Pakistan, said religious harmony in Pakistan right now was not at an ideal level.
“While it is not up to me to be telling my hosts as to how to go about it, I am still looking forward to a dialogue between all participants and take back some of the lessons to Germany.”
In support of his contention, he quoted the oft-quoted speech of Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Pakistan’s first legislative assembly on August 11, 1947: “In the new state of Pakistan, there will be no Muslims, Hindus or Parsis, but and we all shall be Pakistanis. You are free to go to your mosques, your temples.”
French scholar Dr Michel Boivin spoke on the issue of Haq Mawjud and the building of interfaith harmony in colonial and post-colonial Sindh and beyond.
He spoke about the love and harmony preached among followers of different religions by Sufi saints of the sub-continent through their poetry and their lyric.
Dr Nazi Hussain of the international relations department of the Quaid-e-Adam University, Islamabad, decried the sectarian and interfaith friction currently raging in Pakistan, in particular the treatment meted out to the Hindus of Sind and the Christians in the Punjab.
All religions, he said professed peace and love. The problem, he said, came when politics was injected into religion or religion was manipulated to achieve political ends.
He said there was no compulsion in Islam yet the Taliban were going about forcefully converting people to Islam. He recalled the time when people of all religions lived in perfect peace and harmony in Medina.
Wahid Ali Tahiti spoke on the role of Táchira thought in the development of intolerance in Muslim society.
Arish Saleem Hisami of the National Defence University, Islamabad, while talking of the situation in the Middle East, said that it was a case of politicisation of religious issues.
It was indicative of the way various segments there had evolved to assert their identity. Sectarianism, she said, was not the only cause for the Middle East turmoil.
It was because, she said, the political structure was collapsing and non-state actors were rushing in to fill in the vacuum. Their battles, she said, were being fought in other countries, an obvious allusion to Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Abbas Hussain, the director of Teachers’ Development Centre, talked about the need for resolving conflicts between various sects and religions through dialogue.
He mentioned the imperative need for the four Ds: debate, discussion, deliberation, dialogue. The core value of dialogue, he said, was respect.
Dr Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi of the University of Peshawar, in his analysis of the situation in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, said Wahabi-ism was acting as a catalyst for violence in South Asia and blamed it on the Mujahideen.
He recounted how the Saudis, when they entered the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s, imposed Wahabi-ism on the people there.
In India, he said, it was the Shias and the Barelvis who had formed a joint front against the Deobandis.
The Islamic State (IS), till recently the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he said, was presently spreading its tentacles in Pakistan.